Cards go with Gant to start off series against Pirates

Moving from Houston to Pittsburgh, from the American League to the National League, was plenty for right-hander Joe Musgrove. Then came a right shoulder strain that lingered from spring training into the season.

On Friday, Musgrove will make his Pirates and 2018 major league debut in a series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park after something of a grand tour de rehab: starts in an 18-day span in Bradenton, Fla., Altoona, Pa., Indianapolis and Durham, N.C., with trips to join the Pirates between.

Musgrove, 25, the key return when Pittsburgh traded Gerrit Cole to Houston in the offseason, finally is off the disabled list and with the Pirates for what he hopes is the balance of the season.

“I’m tired of traveling,” Musgrove told reporters when his rehab tour ended. “I’m tired of not being here contributing.

“So I’m ready to do my part.”

A planned part of the rotation with the Pirates, Musgrove began 2017 as a starter with the Astros during their World Series season but finished in the bullpen. Overall, he was 7-8 with a 4.77 ERA. He made 15 starts and 23 relief appearances.

His absence left Pittsburgh scrambling some, using Steven Brault at times as a starter and calling up rookie Nick Kingham for three starts. Brault is now in the bullpen and Kingham with Triple-A Indianapolis, so a spot in the rotation apparently is Musgrove’s to lose.

Musgrove, who has never pitched against the Cardinals, is scheduled to face John Gant (1-1, 4.67 ERA) in the first game of a three-game series.

For both clubs, Friday’s game starts a stretch of 10 games against other top contenders in the NL Central, including this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh and four games between the same clubs next weekend in St. Louis. Between, the Pirates play three against the Chicago Cubs at home, and the Cardinals face Milwaukee three times at home.

Pittsburgh (27-22) comes dragging in after losing five of its past six games, including a 5-4 defeat Thursday at Cincinnati.

One bright spot for the Pirates has been rookie Austin Meadows, who hit his third homer Thursday and has at least one hit in five of his six big league games since being promoted last week to fill in for injured center fielder Starling Marte.

St. Louis (26-21), which was off Thursday, is 4-7 in its past 11 games. It has lost two straight, against Kansas City, with a total of three runs.

“We know that guys are fighting to put together offense every single night when you’re seeing pitchers who are putting together good stuff,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Gant, who is slotting in for injured ace Adam Wainwright, is looking for his first win since April 26 but is coming off a strong outing.

Last Saturday against Philadelphia, Gant had a career-best seven strikeouts despite lasting just 4 1/3 innings. He got a no-decision in St. Louis’ 7-6 loss.

Gant has one career start against the Pirates, a 4-1 loss last season.